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Mule Deer Challenge

Mule Deer Challenge, Mark Higley, my outdoorbuddy.com, hunting, deer hunting, john higley, outdoor recreation

fter drawing a premium deer tag for Zone X7a this year, I hoped to make the most of my opportunity to hunt mule deer in California. Realistically, I may be too old to put out the effort by the time I get a similar tag sometime in the future. Hey, I’m on the far side of 70 already. As a friend once said, “How the heck did that happen?”

With X7a, I did not know what I was getting into because I’d never hunted there before. The country, roughly west and southwest of Hallelujah Junction and Highway 395, is big and the deer are in widely separated pockets. There’s a lot of the high desert terrain where there aren’t any. My ace-in-the-hole was my son-in-law Robert Feamster, who hunted in the zone previously, and is familiar with some of the roads. He and my son Mark accompanied the old man, which I appreciated greatly--especially because they promised to pack my buck out for me should that be necessary.

Robert Feamster, Mule Deer Challenge, Mark Higley, my outdoorbuddy.com, hunting, deer hunting, john higley, outdoor recreation
Author's companions Robert Feamster (top) and son Mark attempt to locate some deer from afar with binoculars during the X7a hunt.

With all that help, I’d like to say I shot a monster mule deer and came home to face another taxidermy bill, but such is not the case. The buck I “settled” for would have been a good size blacktail, but as a mule deer it was on the small side. Regardless of its size, though, the venison will be wonderful.

Here’s the way things shook out. On opening day, October 5, we started hiking in the dark to a place near the small town of Loyalton that was pointed out to us in advance by a local resident who Robert knew. We were told the spot held plenty of deer, including some nice bucks, and there was very little hunting pressure. Unfortunately, a little hunting pressure was more than enough. Two other hunters had walked through the area in the dark, and the deer were gone by the time it was light enough to see. We hunted from first light until afternoon, hiked our tails off in steep terrain, and saw only a couple of does for our trouble. By the time we got back to our pickup truck my confidence level left a lot to be desired. Oh, and falling down three times on steep slopes, and using all the Band Aids in my day pack to stop the bleeding from various cuts and scrapes, didn’t help.

Mule Deer Challenge, Mark Higley, my outdoorbuddy.com, hunting, deer hunting, john higley, outdoor recreation
Author John Higley and his son Mark pose with author's young mule deer buck in Zone X7a.

On Sunday, I declared I was done with hiking, unless we spotted some deer in advance with a spotting scope or binoculars. We went to another location, and after a cold start, glassing for two hours, and seeing no deer whatsoever, I was definitely ready to make something happen.

That’s when Robert suggested visiting another place where he had seen deer in the past, and that’s what we did.

After traversing a boulder-filled dry wash without getting our rig stuck, we parked near a small grove of aspens nestled below a sagebrush covered ridge, and started glassing again. Almost immediately, Robert spotted four bucks on the hillside above us, one of which had larger antlers than the others.

“You ought to shoot that one,” he said, and I took his advice. The buck, standing 207 yards away, dropped instantly when my weathered .270 Winchester Model 70 went off.

So there it is. I filled my tag with a young buck wearing a small 3x4 rack. Just like that, my hunt was over, except for the pack out, and that was a simple downhill drag.

I still wish I had held out a bit longer. After my buck was down we saw two other bucks, and they were considerably bigger than the one I got.

However, you make your choices, and you have to live with them. With any luck at all, I will hunt mule deer again somewhere in the Golden State one of these years, and, despite my age, take up where I left off. Time will tell.

In retrospect, my hunt was short, challenging and fun, and my favorite hunting companions were along for the ride. I really can’t ask for much more.

Author and writer John Higley is a resident of Palo Cedro, CA. His articles have appeared in Outdoor California and other fishing and hunting journals. He is the author of two books: “Hunting Wild Turkeys In the West” and “Hunting Blacktail Deer.”

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